Area Navigation

FSA Learning Flight 3

Fun Fact

Aviator and motorcycling pioneer Glenn Curtiss flew the first public demonstration of a seaplane during the Great International Aviation Carnival in 1911. The aircraft departed from Great Salt Lake in front of 20,000 spectators, making international headlines.

Screenshot by Dana A.

Flight Summary

In Flight 3, we introduce a navigation concept the modern airline or corporate pilot uses every day: RNAV! We’ll depart the busy Salt Lake City terminal area using an RNAV departure and safely approach a mountainous airport that doesn’t have any ground-based navigation aids.

Concepts Discussed in this Flight:
  • Introduction to RNAV
  • RNAV SIDs and "Climb Via"
  • "Direct To" Navigation
  • Approach Transitions
  • RNAV Approaches

Airports Visited in this Flight

Bryce Canyon Airport

Bryce Canyon Airport (KJAC)

Elev: 7,590 ft. / 2,314 m

Addon Scenery Recommendations

For Orbx customers, KBCE is included in the freeware Global Airport Pack.

Objective 1

Prepare to Fly

The ILS we flew in the last Learning Flight remains the most commonly-flown approach at busy airports. However, almost all other elements of conventional navigation (VORs, NDBs, and DMEs) are being phased out in favor of GPS-based procedures.

RNAV, or area navigation, allows an aircraft to fly directly between any two points in space without requiring ground-based navigational aids. This task is accomplished using GPS equipment or an inertial navigation system (INS), or both. The building block of RNAV is a fix, or intersection, which is a 5-letter named identifier that represents a set of latitude and longitude coordinates.

RNAV airways are defined by a series of fixes. Tango airways are the RNAV equivalent of Victor airways (below 18,000 ft. MSL), and Q-airways are the RNAV equivalent of J-airways (at or above 18,000 ft. MSL). RNAV airways are depicted in blue on IFR low and high-altitude enroute charts. In the figure below, T298 is a low-altitude RNAV airway that is composed of both traditional navigational fixes such as DETAN (defined by a bearing and distance from a VOR), and RNAV-only fixes such as EBOVE.

There are many ways to attain RNAV capability in your simulator. Many default and almost all add-on aircraft will have this capability. For most general aviation aircraft (like a King Air), a GPS is the source for navigation. In airliners and small business jets, a Flight Management System (FMS) provides this capability, often also using GPS as the source. You will get the most out of this lesson, and the next few RNAV-related lessons, by using an aircraft with appropriate equipment.

In fact, picking the correct airplane for this Learning Flight is very important. Technically, the RNAV SIDs we’re going to fly out of KSLC require a jet aircraft. However, the RNAV approach at KBCE can only be flown by an aircraft with a maximum final approach speed of 140 knots. Furthermore, the runway at KBCE is only 7,394 ft. long. While that might seem like a lot of runway, the airport’s 7,590 ft. elevation means you’ll use it up quickly, both on landing and takeoff for the next flight. A small corporate jet with good takeoff and landing performance, or even a lightly-loaded twin-jet like a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, would work nicely.

No matter what RNAV system you are using, it is important to have up-to-date navigational data, or navdata. Navdata refers to the database of fixes that is available in your aircraft. Normally, most simulation aircraft will have a database included with the aircraft. However, the database is probably only current as of the release date of the aircraft. Fixes, airways, and other navigation data change every 28 days. You can find some navdata free at However, most simmers subscribe to Navigraph, which offers navigation data updates for a wide variety of flight simulation aircraft, both default and add-on. Visit our Navdata Guide for more information on how to ensure your simulator is up-to-date.

Because of the wide variety of aircraft and simulators, these flights don’t cover the steps required to set up your aircraft’s GPS or FMS. If you are familiar with how to program a SID, STAR, airways, and approaches into your aircraft, you’re ready to continue with the flight. If not, there are a variety of great free and paid resources available, including YouTube searches and even companies that offer a "virtual type rating" in specific aircraft. Before moving forward, make sure you’re comfortable with programming your aircraft’s navigation computer.

Objective 2

RNAV Departure

Locate the available departures for Salt Lake City Airport (KSLC). On AirNav, the list looks like this:

You’ll notice a mix of conventional departures like the “Salt Lake #” and RNAV departures like the ARCHZ#. The RNAV departures are denoted by the "(RNAV)" symbol. First, open the ARCHZ# departure:

As you can see, this SID requires RNAV capability and is only available for turbojet aircraft. Notice also that the routing is a little different than what we saw out of KJAC. This is a "radar vectored" departure, meaning that you need to receive direction from ATC before joining the route. (By comparison, at KJAC, we were able to fly directly from the runway to join the SID.) Furthermore, notice how the departure is comprised almost entirely of waypoints that are only accessible via the GPS; there is no VOR radial that could be flown to navigate along the procedure.

You’ll also notice that this SID only provides departure information from Runways 34L/34R/35 and Runways 14/32/16L/16R/17 are marked as not authorized ("NA"). That’s because departures from the south runways are to use the ZIONZ# departure instead:

Just like when we were arriving at KSLC in the previous flight, use the planned departure runway to determine which SID to use. If you plan to depart from Runway 16R, you would use the ZIONZ# departure. For this flight, we’ll assume the wind favors a northbound departure (from Runway 34L, in this example) and so we’ll use the ARCHZ# departure.

Like at KJAC, the first step is to look carefully at the SID. The "departure route description" explains that, after departing from Runway 34L, fly a heading as assigned by ATC and wait for radar vectors to the SCANT waypoint. This means we can’t turn direct to SCANT until ATC instructs us to do so. Here, we also have a published top altitude—the maximum altitude you can climb to until given further instruction—is to be "assigned by ATC" in your IFR clearance. Other SIDs will include a specific top altitude of FL230. If ATC doesn’t provide any altitude information in the IFR clearance (or simply says "climb via SID"), we’ll know that FL230 is the highest we can climb to until given further instructions. If flying without ATC, set FL230 as the initial top altitude—the maximum altitude you can climb to until given further instruction—is to be "assigned by ATC" in your IFR clearance. Other SIDs will include a specific top altitude.

Air Traffic Control (Click to Expand) (Click to Collapse)

Now that you have an idea of the initial departure instructions, program the SID into the aircraft. This often involves selecting the SID, departure runway, and transition. On this SID, the transitions are KROST, MLF, and WININ; we’re going to use the MLF transition since it’s most along the direct route to KBCE. Once programmed, review each waypoint in your GPS or FMS to make sure that it matches the published chart. If your aircraft has VNAV capability, also check that the altitude restrictions (SCANT at 10,000 ft. or above, ARCHZ at 13,000 ft. or above, and TRILA at FL190 or above) are incorporated.

Once your GPS/FMS is programmed with the ARCHZ# departure from Runway 34L and you have confirmed “SCANT” as your first waypoint, you’re ready to start programming the enroute portion of Learning Flight 3.

Objective 3

Navigate to KBCE

Locate the MLF VOR on the Enroute L-9 chart. This is the last waypoint on the ARCHZ# departure. You’ll notice that, using V235 and V239, you could navigate to BCE. However, this wouldn’t be a very direct route. Plus, you’d end up over the airport at about 5,500 ft. above the ground with no easy way to fly an approach.

Unlike at KSLC, there are no STARs to help us with the arrival into KBCE. Also, being a small regional airport, KBCE doesn’t have a control tower. That means it’s up to us to decide on a safe way to fly to, and approach, the airport.

KBCE only has two RNAV approach procedures, one for each side of the runway:

Because there is no tower at KBCE, it’s up to you to select an appropriate runway for landing, just as we did when landing at KWYS in Learning Flight 1. Since there are approaches available to either side of the runway, you could simply make this choice based on the most into-wind runway. However, comparing the two approaches:

As you can see, in low-weather conditions, it might be favorable to fly the RNAV RWY 21 approach with a slight tailwind, since you can fly as low as 325 ft. AGL (with LPV equipment) before you must have acquired the runway visually. The RNAV RWY 3 approach only gets you as low as 850 ft. AGL. If the clouds were located at 500 ft. AGL, only the RNAV RWY 21 approach would work; a pilot flying the RNAV RWY 3 would likely end up flying the missed approach. That said, accepting a tailwind on a short runway in bad weather and at an almost 8,000 ft.-high airport might not be the best idea!

This briefing will assume the weather and wind favor landing on Runway 21 and will look at the RNAV RWY 21 approach. Like an ILS, the chart provides some critical information for flying the approach. You may notice that this chart looks like something of a hybrid between a STAR (like the BEARR# we flew into KSLC) and an ILS approach. In addition to the final approach course (made up of the waypoints BEYAB, HIKMU, ZUGOV, and CUYNA), there are transitions OMCUE, UJACI, AXGEX, and BCE. These transitions provide a safe way to navigate from the enroute environment onto the approach. You can think of them like miniature STARs: an aircraft can cross OMUCE, then descend to 12,800 ft. while flying the 26.3 miles to BEYAB. From there, you turn right to join the final approach course and fly the approach.

Since we know that OMUCE is on the approach, let’s return to the Enroute L-9 chart. Recall that KSLC’s ARCHZ# SID takes us to MLF. One option to get to OMUCE would be to follow the V244 airway. The airway offers us an MEA of 16,000 ft., guaranteeing obstacle clearance at that altitude. If you elected to fly this way, your IFR flight plan route would be:


You would fly the SID, join V244 at MLF, and then (once given clearance to fly the approach), cross OMUCE at or above the V244 airway MEA of 16,000 ft. From there, switch to the RNAV RWY 21 chart to see that you can descend to 12,800 ft. until you reach BEYAB. At that point, you can continue to "step down" to each fix along the approach. Depending on your aircraft’s capabilities, you’ll likely be able to pick up the vertical guidance on the approach shortly after BEYAB and will be able to follow lateral and vertical approach guidance, just like on an ILS.

Pilot Tip

The 16,000 ft. altitude is the MEA on V244. The *14,200 represents the MOCA, or Minimum Obstacle Clearance Altitude. Unlike an MEA, the MOCA only assures acceptable navigational signal coverage within 22 NM of a VOR. This altitude will be authorized by ATC in the event of an emergency (e.g., engine failure, severe icing, etc.) where maintaining the MEA isn’t possible.

The "Z" symbol just left of the MEA is a "changeover point". For pilots using conventional navigation, this is the point where you would switch from tracking the MLF VOR to tracking the HVE VOR.

However, since we’re RNAV-capable, flying all the way to MLF and then OMUCE adds several miles to our route. An alternative to that routing is to simply request to fly direct OMUCE from ATC. When in radar coverage, ATC shares the responsibility for obstacle clearance. If you’re given “direct OMUCE” from ATC and have been assigned an altitude, you know it’s safe to navigate direct to it. In this scenario, ATC would issue you an altitude to cross OMUCE at as part of your approach clearance.

Air Traffic Control (Click to Expand) (Click to Collapse)

If you’re flying without human ATC, you can still use the instrument charts to safely route direct OMUCE. All IFR charts include an OROCA, or Off-Route Obstruction Clearance Altitude. This provides at least 1,000 ft. of buffer from terrain (in areas like this one with mountainous terrain, the buffer is increased to 2,000 ft.). While the OROCA does not necessarily provide navigation or ATC coverage, it will keep you safe from terrain.

Based on this information, once you climb through 15,000 ft. from KSLC, it would be safe for you to turn direct OMUCE. Provided you crossed OMUCE at least 13,900 ft. (the OROCA in the quadrangle OMUCE is in), you would have at least a 2,000 ft. buffer from terrain.

Objective 4

Fly an RNAV Approach at KBCE

Once you reach OMUCE at a safe altitude, the rest is easy! The "NoPT" symbol along the transition from OMUCE to BEYAB signifies you don’t need to fly the depicted hold at BEYAB. As a result, flying the approach is as simple as:

  1. Cross OMUCE at a safe altitude (either one provided by ATC or above the 13,900 ft. OROCA.)
  2. Fly direct BEYAB, descending to 12,800 ft. MSL.
  3. Turn right at BEYAB and track the approach inbound, descending to no lower than 12,000 ft. MSL until HIKMU.
  4. Continue to follow the “step-down” altitudes or your aircraft’s vertical navigation guidance to:
    1. Cross ZUGOV at or above 11,600 ft. MSL.
    2. Cross CUNYA as close as possible to 10,700 ft. MSL.
    3. The minimums applicable to your aircraft, which for most flight simulation aircraft will be the LPV minimums: 7,889’ ft. MSL or 325 ft. AGL.
  5. Once you reach the minimums, decide whether you have enough visual reference to land; if not, overshoot and commence the missed approach.
Pilot Tip
Pay close attention to the minimum altitudes on the approach and don’t trust everything to your FMS/GPS. As with the SID at KSLC, it’s a good practice to check the waypoints and corresponding altitudes you see in the database with the chart. Notice that between BEYAB and HIKMU, there is a mountain peak 10,800 ft. high. Staying at or above the 12,000 ft. altitude until HIKMU is important! Until vertical navigation captures, pilots will sometimes fly 100 ft. above the minimum "step-down" altitudes to avoid accidentally getting too close to terrain.

Once your navigation equipment has fully captured the approach, flying is just like on an ILS: follow the guidance laterally and vertically until reaching the minimums appropriate to your capabilities. For most flight simulator aircraft, as long as you have the runway in sight by the LPV DA of 325 ft. AGL (or 7,889 ft. MSL), you can safely continue for a landing. If not, conduct a missed approach and follow the guidance to climb and hold over CEXAT.

If you’re joining the approach from a transition like BCE that doesn’t have the "NoPT" symbol, you’re required to fly the hold-in-lieu of procedure turn depicted at BEYAB. The hold-in-lieu is also required when flying direct BEYAB from certain angles and without a "straight in" clearance from ATC. We don’t cover hold entries in this series.

Ground School Seminar: Holds and Approaches

For a detailed discussion of holds, including rules, entries, and regulations, Boston Virtual ARTCC has produced a dedicated Holds Ground School seminar for online viewers. This hour-long session features interactive walk-through examples.

If you’re looking for more information about approaches, including how professional and airline pilots prepare to fly, check out BVA’s Instrument Approach Procedures (Part 1 and Part 2) Ground School.

Air Traffic Control (Click to Expand) (Click to Collapse)

Objective 5

Land and Taxi to Parking

Once you stick the landing, taxiing to parking at KBCE will be a little easier than the complex taxiway layout at KSLC. In fact, here, you won’t even find a full Airport Diagram published. Instead, you can find the layout in the Chart Supplement page for KBCE. Or, just look for the terminal: it will probably be the only building you can see!

Air Traffic Control (Click to Expand) (Click to Collapse)

Go Flying

Flight 3 begins at Salt Lake City International Airport (KSLC). File and fly the appropriate SID based on the runway you plan to use for departure. Navigate either via airways or direct to one of the transitions for the RNAV approach you wish to fly at KBCE. Fly the RNAV approach safely, enjoying the views of the scenic approach, and taxi into parking to complete Flight 3.

  1. Load your aircraft at KBCE and set the weather.
  2. Plan your route: prepare for the appropriate SID (ARCHZ# if departing north or ZIONZ# if departing south), determine which RNAV to fly at KBCE, and decide how you’ll get to an appropriate transition/feeder route on that approach.
  3. Select an appropriate altitude. The direct magnetic track between KSLC and KBCE is 171°, so an eastbound altitude above the lowest MEA would make sense. If you plan to fly direct to an IAF on the RNAV approaches at KBCE, make sure you’re flying at 15,000 ft. or higher.
  4. Depart KSLC on the appropriate SID. If you’re flying without ATC, turn direct SCANT or HOPTO as you pass through 10,000 ft.
  5. Navigate to an IAF or transition on the RNAV approach of your choice at KBCE.
  6. Fly the approach, land, and park at KBCE.

Using the benefits of modern avionics and RNAV, you’ve been able to safely approach an airport without relying on any ground-based navigation aid located at KBCE. You’re also more than halfway through our Learning series!